Friday, May 30, 2008
Reflections on Memorial Day 2008
[Lt. Col. Jeffrey Stutz was the featured speaker at Carlisle’s Memorial Day observances at the Corey Auditorium on May 26. His speech appears below:]
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Let me start out by saying what a privilege it is for me to be asked to speak at this convocation. Thanks to the committee and especially Doug Stevenson for selecting me and Alan Cameron (Commander, U.S. Navy retired) for the blurbs in the Mosquito.
I was raised in the eastern suburbs of San Francisco Bay Area in a city called Pleasanton. I used to think of it as a small city of about 45,000… until I came to Carlisle. I left the familiar surroundings of California for the unknown east coast and Annapolis, Maryland where on the first of July, 1987 I took the oath of office as a U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman and entered as a member of the Class of 1991. I now embrace the New England Patriots having had Steve Belichick as one of our Naval Academy PE instructors.
After graduation 17 years ago I accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in our nation’s youngest branch of Service -- the U.S. Air Force -- rather than the traditional Navy or Marine Corps that 99.4% of the rest of my class selected. I’ve married Emily and am raising three children: Meagan, Lindsey, and Gunther. Since entering the Air Force I’ve served as a pilot, intelligence, space, and defense procurement officer. I’ve served literally around the globe having lived in Japan (our son Gunther was born there) and deployed to Korea, Australia, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia.
We moved to Carlisle in 2006 after spending nearly six years and two assignments in Virginia. What a great place we’ve landed. We consider ourselves blessed to live in such rural charm so close to all the action of a large metropolitan area like Boston. I’ve also never lived in a place that loved its baseball team as much as Boston -- it’s like a religion and it’s very infectious. The people of Carlisle give it the warmth that helps you get through the winter, so I’d like to thank all who have welcomed us over these last two years. From neighbors with snow-throwers that helped us through that first winter (mild by New England standards) to the teachers, coaches, Boy Scout and Girl Scout leaders who’ve taken the time to make our kids feel at home.
Part of the draw of Carlisle is that residents like you take the time out of a prime Cape Cod or White Mountains weekend to pause and honor Americans who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for this great nation.
I’d like to share with you some thoughts on what Memorial Day means to me. Early on in life it was easy to just look at Memorial Day as the three-day weekend that began the summer. As I’ve grown older and as our nation has been involved in this long Global War on Terrorism, I’ve become more reflective on this day. I’ve lost many friends who’ve died in the line of duty -- 12 alone from my academy graduating class of over 900 – so Memorial Day has a very personal aspect for me.
From 1997-2000 I served as an intelligence officer in the 353rd Special Operations Group and for the first two years I worked with the 320th Special Tactics Squadron. For those not familiar with Air Force Special Tactics, it’s the Air Force’s special operations forces, similar to the U.S. Navy SEALS or Army’s Special Forces. The operators in our squadron whom I supported were the Air Force’s elite combat controllers and pararescuemen . . . like former squadronmate Technical Sergeant John Chapman, who was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions in Afghanistan at “Roberts Ridge,” . . . and Airman First Class William Pitsenbarger, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his selfless actions stabilizing and extracting wounded soldiers in the jungle of Vietnam… also posthumously.
Because of the unique skills that our teams had, my commander asked me as their intel officer to prepare the team for a potential high-altitude personnel recovery mission in the mountains abutting roadless and dense rainforests of the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya on the island of New Guinea. My commander had recently met with the U.S. Defense Attaché to Indonesia who was looking to do the right thing before he retired. The Defense Attaché is the senior U.S. military officer assigned to the embassy. This attaché was an Airman. It turned out that a helicopter pilot working for a mining company had stumbled on what was believed to be the wreckage of a B-25 lost just after the end of World War II at 12,500 feet. The altitude is significant – 12,500 feet. Since the aeronautical charts of the day showed the highest peak at 11,500, these Airmen were at the right altitude – 1,000 feet above what they were led to believe was the highest obstacle. Unfortunately for them, the chart was wrong and they impacted the side of the remote mountain on a cloudy day at 12,500 feet.
As I collected the latest aeronautical charts of the area to begin my research, I was struck by the fact that for that place on the map the mighty United States with the most advanced resources, had “no data available” in this particularly remote location. It was ironic that the same faulty cartography was not any better 50 years after the accident – no one had ever intended us to fight in this part of the world and with the constant cloud cover it’s not any better today on Google Maps. I checked.
The eight Airmen in the B-25 took off from Queensland, Australia en route to the island of Biak northwest of the impact site but never made it. After a month or so of preparing for the recovery mission we were given the order to stand down. In 1999, two years later, a team from the Army’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii – think of them as CSI Las Vegas and Bones on steroids with all of their human forensic identification abilities – made the trek by helicopter and finally got the remains and artifacts off the mountain.
I’m proud to serve a nation that never gives up, that never leaves a fallen warrior behind no matter how long it takes. You can see an example of this organization on the front page of the Boston Sunday Globe from yesterday, where the now Joint POW/MIA Command were performing a similar recovery of a downed World War II fighter in the jungles of adjacent Papua New Guinea.
Sometimes the fallen never come home. My father-in-law is the only son of the late 2nd Lt. Walter D. Griffiths, U.S. Army Signal Corps. Lt. Griffiths was a newly-minted signal corps officer on his way to the European Theater in the winter of 1943 and was steaming on the U.S. Army Transport ship Dorchester, named for a place not far from here. On the 3rd of February, the Dorchester was hit by a torpedo from a lurking German U-boat and Lt. Griffiths and over 600 others perished that night in the cold North Atlantic, as so many did in that war.
About this time every year, my wife’s family get together for a week on the mountain at Snowbird, Utah and every so often our week-22 timeshare coincides with Memorial Day. A few years ago, on Memorial Day, I accompanied my father-in-law and my kids to Memory Grove Park in Salt Lake City where all that remains of Lt. Griffiths is an engraved piece of granite with dates and a simple, cold location “North Atlantic.” Lt. Griffiths wasn’t alone when he was killed… the most famous soldiers on the Dorchester were four chaplains – a rabbi, a priest, and two protestant pastors (no this isn’t the beginning to some joke). These four men selflessly gave up their own lifejackets and comforted the men who were about to enter the icy 34-degree ocean. You can read about these brave men in the book No Greater Glory by Dan Kurzman or see the DVD here at the Gleason Library titled The Four Chaplains. They were with Lt. Griffiths when they died that night.
Finally, I’d like to discuss the sacrifices that our men and women have made in this fight. At the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was serving as an intelligence liaison officer at the Combined Air Operations Center in Saudi Arabia. The CAOC, as it’s called, is a most lethal thing. It harnesses all of the coalition’s airpower into a single coordinated entity, orchestrating all of the surveillance and reconnaissance, air refueling, cargo, and strike missions in Southwest Asia (also known as CENTCOM). Our enemies fear the power it brings but airpower is not impervious and in war Murphy’s Law is always waiting and the worst thing can always happen. Twice the worst thing did happen. The worst two days of my deployment were the two different days I learned that in two separate incidents we had shot down two of our own planes… in the “fog of war,” three people were dead. It leaves an empty pit in your stomach.
Over 4000 soldiers, sailors,aAirmen, and Marines have died in this conflict, and no matter on which side of the political fence you stand, we should actively remember our ancestors, our family members, our loved ones, our neighbors and our friends who have given the ultimate sacrifice.
Memorial Day can be observed in many ways. To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, Congress passed the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution in December 2000. It asks that on Memorial Day, at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans to “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they’re doing for a moment of silence or listen to ‘Taps’ being played.” On this and every Memorial Day, we must never forget the meaning of Memorial Day and remember those proud patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of liberty’s blessings. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you all today. ∆
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito